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August saw most Iraq combat deaths of '05

3d highest level in single month since war began

WASHINGTON -- US forces in Iraq suffered at least 74 combat deaths in August, more than in any month since November and the third-highest total for any month of the war, according to Pentagon figures.

The total number of US military deaths in August, including those deemed non-hostile, was at least 83, according to figures available Wednesday. That was the highest since 107 in January, when there were 53 accidental deaths for the month.

These included 30 Marines and a sailor who died in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash.

The US military death toll had been declining in recent months, from 80 in May (67 hostile and 13 nonhostile) and 78 in June (69 hostile and nine nonhostile), to 54 in July (45 hostile and nine non-hostile). US officials have said they expect insurgent violence to intensify further with the approach of a referendum in Iraq on the new constitution, now set for October.

The 74 troops killed in action in August was the third-highest monthly total of the war, after 126 in April 2004 and 125 last November, when the Marines led a bloody assault on the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

There are about 138,000 US troops in Iraq, and US officials say they probably will increase that figure temporarily to about 160,000 to provide extra security during the October referendum and an election set for Dec. 15.

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